10 Famous Geniuses And Their Stupid Petty Feuds
Geniuses aren't like us. They spend all day doing things like trying to cure cancer or making expositional speeches to the president in movies where the Rock is about to be called in. If they're not doing that, they're probably polishing their Nobel prizes, getting honorary PhDs, and banging their way through hordes of academia groupies. They definitely don't have time to get involved in childish pissing contests. Right? OK, sometimes they do ...
Grant Morrison Vs. Alan Moore: Magical Melee
Grant Morrison, author of All-Star Superman, The Multiversity, and The Invisibles
Alan Moore, author of V For Vendetta, From Hell, and some little-known book you might possibly have heard of called Watchmen
Their work is widely credited with elevating comics into something adults aren't ashamed to be caught reading. Basically, if you've ever had someone hear you say "comic book" and huffily tell you they're actually graphic novels, you can thank Morrison and Moore. They've the most important thing to happen to comics since the invention of seemingly random bolded phrases in dialogue, so it probably goes without saying that these two absolutely hate each other. Also, they both believe they are actual wizards.
Let's start with the normal petty feud stuff. Moore claims that Morrison is an imitator, saying, "I've read his work twice; once when I wrote, and again when he did." Morrison styles himself as an outsider to the comics industry, while Moore claims that Morrison is a poser and that he's the real outsider, since Morrison is still making mainstream comics and a Syfy original series. There's a lot of bitterness here, is what I'm saying, with Moore having compared Morrison to herpes and implying that Morrison wants to bang him.
Two middle-aged millionaires making passive-aggressive remarks about who's more of an outsider is about as cool as a high school debate team's non-coed pizza party, but the next part is what really pushes it into levels of lameness previously only explored by youth pastors freestyle-rapping the virtues of abstinence. Morrison and Moore disagree about who's better at "real" magic.
At the risk of evoking the flaccid, impotent anger of any magic practitioners reading this, I'll spare you the finer details and give the simplified version. Moore believes in "traditional," codified magic, while Morrison believes in "chaos magic," an interpretation that separates magic from ritual. They've been locked in a bitter wizard fight for years, but instead of throwing fireballs, they just gently satirize one another's beliefs in their work.
In Moore's Promethea, for example, a characters describes how "modern" magic is all about "sigils, stubble, and self-abuse." Wow, devastating. Morrison retorted that Promethea's view of magic is "elitist." All of this raises a question: If both of these men are actually capable of doing magic, why hasn't one of them made the other spontaneously become snakes? Also, if they can bend reality according to their will, why does Morrison choose to look like a hitman from a Guy Ritchie movie ...
... while Moore looks like a vengeful homunculi made from the sweepings of a barbershop floor?
Carl Sagan vs. Apple: Acronym Acrimony
Carl Sagan, scientist and educator whose program Cosmos sparked curiosity and fascination in an entire generation
Apple, a charging cable company that sells phones and computers on the side
The trouble started in 1993, when an issue of MacWEEK unveiled that Apple was working on three new computers, code-named Cold Fusion, Piltdown Man, and Carl Sagan. The "Carl Sagan" was actually the Power Mac 7100, and was given its code name as a reference to Sagan's catchphrase "billions and billions," after the amount of money they were expecting to make from it. Sagan's irritation over the phrase likely stems from the fact that he never actually said "billions and billions" on Cosmos, and that it came from a joke Johnny Carson made about Sagan being a sex criminal.
Sagan was protective of his image, and worried that if he was seen as endorsing a product, it would undermine his credibility. He was also probably none too pleased that the other two code names, Cold Fusion and Piltdown Man, referred to junk science and a notorious hoax, respectively. Furious, Sagan went straight to the nuclear option: writing a strongly worded letter. And this appeal worked! Technically! Apple changed the name to BHA, which stood for "Butt-Head Astronomer."
Sagan decided he wasn't going down without a fight and sued Apple for libel. The court ruled that "There can be no question that the use of the figurative term 'Butt-Head' negates the impression that Defendant was seriously implying an assertion of fact." Yes, their defense was that it wasn't libel because Sagan did not in fact have a butt for a head. Sagan would unsuccessfully sue the company several more times until they finally settled out of court and wrote a statement apologizing to him.
Knowing that their pointless crusade against a beloved public figure was lost, the 7100 was given the final code name LAW, which stood for "Lawyers Are Wimps." Got 'em?
Paul Gauguin vs. Van Gogh: Roommate Rumble!
Vincent van Gogh, one of the most influential artists of all time
Paul Gauguin, who was like if John Waters made a movie about a famous painter
Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin were hugely important artists whose work was crucial in moving painting away from purely representational forms. They were also both so terrible as roommates that they make your worst roommate-you-found-on-Craigslist story seem like Three's Company. I mean, sure, that one guy might have refused to shower and ran a coyote breeding business out of the spare room, but at least he didn't threaten to strangle you in your sleep. (Warning: That's a spoiler for a couple of paragraphs from now.)
Let's rewind. Van Gogh absolutely idolized Gauguin, and often sent him letters. He was ecstatic when Gauguin agreed to move in with him in France. It turns out that meeting your heroes is a really bad idea, and it didn't help that Gauguin was a colossal fucking dick.
At first, everything was fine. They merged their finances and even shared household chores -- van Gogh bought groceries and Gauguin cooked. What sounds like the premise of a hit sitcom soon became more like a limited-location psychological drama, as van Gogh's mental illness became worse and Gauguin became disillusioned with France because he had "no enthusiasm for the local women." The two men were polar opposites. Gauguin was cynical and aloof, whereas van Gogh was passionate and needy, increasingly prone to extreme mood swings and becoming clingier by the day. Gauguin would sometimes awaken to find van Gogh standing over his bed, staring at him. Van Gogh once threw a glass at Gauguin's head, which is why Gauguin threatened to strangle him in his sleep.
Things came to a head when van Gogh floated the idea of inviting more artists to their house and making it a sort of commune, and Gauguin declined. He then announced that he was going to Tahiti to bang young girls and spread syphilis to the native population. Van Gogh was shocked. Gauguin hadn't told him he was planning on moving across the globe. He hadn't told his wife or many children either, but that's just another day in the life of Paul Gauguin, Art Bastard.
Van Gogh's abandonment issues went full Misery, and he attacked Gauguin with a straight razor. Gauguin stormed out of the house, so van Gogh chopped off his own ear and gave it gave it to his favorite prostitute, because everyone grieves in their own way. Gauguin headed off to a tropical paradise, where he would get his karmic comeuppance by painting the fourth-most-valuable painting of all time.
Though I should note there is also a pretty convincing theory that van Gogh didn't mutilate himself. According to art historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans, after Gauguin said he was leaving and they argued, Gauguin cut off van Gogh's ear with a goddamn sword, threw it into a river, and swore never to speak of the incident again. Yep, sounds like him.
Oscar Wilde vs. John Douglas: Sarcasm Slam
Oscar Wilde, author, poet, and queer icon who helped invent modern satire
Oscar Wilde was famous for his razor-sharp wit and flamboyance, a combination which inevitably got him in trouble in late 19th-century England. His opponent here was so much his opposite that it's comical: John Douglas, a minor aristocrat with a reputation for being brutal, slovenly, and a big fan of sports. To recap, this is a feud between a man famous for improvised snark and a wealthy noble famous for creating a sport wherein two men beat each other's faces to see whose brain ceases to function first.
So what did Wilde do to Douglas that set him off? Publicly criticize his cravat? Drop a bon mot implying the marquess had poor taste in canes? Literally have sex with his son? Actually, yes, that last one.
Douglas' son Alfred had a romantic relationship with Wilde, and I can attest firsthand that nothing disappoints fathers like dating a comedy writer. Douglas showed up unannounced at Wilde's house and told him, "if I catch you and my son again in any public restaurant I will thrash you." To which Wilde replied, "I don't know what the Queensberry rules are, but the Oscar Wilde rule is to shoot on sight." While that is a pretty sick burn, dunking on an angry man who invented recreational face obliteration probably wasn't a great move.
Douglas delivered a note to a club Wilde frequented which read: For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite. Shockingly, spelling wasn't Douglas' strong suit. The note was accusing Wilde of being gay, which in 1890s England was a prosecutable crime. Wilde sued for libel, and the only way Douglas could beat the rap was to prove in a court of law that Wilde was indeed gay. So Douglas hired a small army of lawyers, investigators, and reporters to aid his case, which became what we today would call a "media circus" or an "unmitigated shit party of human misery."
Douglas' investigators found a few male prostitutes willing to testify that they'd slept with Wilde, proving the charge of "somdomy" wasn't libelous. When a lawyer asked Wilde if he'd ever kissed a particular boy, he vehemently denied it ... because the boy was "extremely ugly." Wilde was charged, sent to prison, forced to pay Douglas' legal fees, and ultimately lost everything. And in a tragically similar story, we have ...
Caravaggio vs. Baglione: PAINting Grudge Match
Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio, master painter of the late Renaissance who's regarded as the father of the modernist movement
Giovanni Baglione, master painter of the late Renaissance who's regarded as the father of the fucking-with-Caravaggio movement
Caravaggio isn't a household name. Nary a ninja turtle is named after him. You might recognize him from when he was in the news in 2013, after a painting found in an attic was determined to be a lost piece of his and valued at $135 million.
The important thing to keep in mind about Caravaggio is that, while he was definitely an incredible painter, he also had the maturity of a bully in an '80s comedy. The dude had a nasty temper. In fact, he once got into an argument over a prostitute and ended up murdering a pimp when he only meant to cut his balls off.
Caravaggio, no doubt devastated that he didn't have a future in the field of pimp castration, often competed for lucrative patronage with another artist by the name Giovanni Baglione. The two developed something of a rivalry that erupted into antagonism when Caravaggio made an extremely uncomfortable painting called Amor Vincit Omnia ("Love Conquers All"):
If a naked preteen with Cupid wings stepping seductively off a table wearing nothing but a come-hither grin with a weird peen that looks like a peanut in a sausage casing seems a bit strange to you, you aren't alone. Rumors swirled about Caravaggio's bisexuality, and one contemporary observer claimed that the model of the painting was Caravaggio's live-in servant Cecco -- or as he put it, Cupid had "ye body and face of his owne boy or servant thait laid with him."
Baglione made this as a direct response:
Caravaggio was none too pleased that the exact same Cupid he painted was shown getting his ass kicked by a larger, more butch angel, but he was even angrier that Baglione stole his style. He publicly accused Baglione of plagiarism. In response, Baglione made another painting:
Yes, Baglione's response to an accusation of plagiarism was to make the same painting again. The major difference is that in this version, the figure of Satan in the lower left corner is facing the viewer, and he looks an awful lot like Caravaggio.
If directly comparing your rival to the actual devil wasn't enough, this painting is also an elaborate gay joke. First off, the painting is titled Sacred And Profane Love. The larger angel represents platonic/religious love (Sacred Love), while Cupid represents lust, or sexual love. Remember when I said that the model Caravaggio used for Cupid was possibly based on his lover? Yeah, this painting is showing an angel separating Caravaggio from his literal and metaphorical "profane love." While writing "FOR A GOOD TIME SEND A CARRIER PIGEON TO CARAVAGGIO" in men's restrooms probably would have been less labor-intensive, I have to admire Baglione's dedication.
To make it worse, sodomy was a capital crime in 1600s Italy, so even the mere suggestion that Caravaggio was gay damaged his reputation and career. Caravaggio took the insult with grace and decided to act like an adult, opening a meaningful dialogue with Baglione and pfffttt hahaha, sorry, excuse me, I couldn't finish that lie with a straight face. Caravaggio responded by writing and self-publishing obscene poems about Baglione and distributing them in the streets, since internet forums hadn't been invented yet.
These poetic masterpieces called Baglione's paintings "woman's work," and said he should "wipe his ass with them," before going on to use florid language to say that Baglione sucked at painting and Caravaggio was much better. Incredibly, the poems also call Baglione "Gian Coglione," which was a pun essentially calling him "John Ballsack."
In what has by now become a familiar pattern, Baglione caught wind of this and sued Caravaggio for libel. During the trial, Caravaggio took the opportunity to prove his innocence by libeling him even more, saying in court that "I don't know any painter who thinks Giovanni Baglione is a good painter." Caravaggio lost his case and was thrown in prison for two weeks. He'd die four years later.
Shortly after Caravaggio's death, his biography was published. While it praised his technical achievements in painting, it also focused unfairly on the man's flaws and tempestuous personality. It would go on to unfavorably color scholarly study of Caravaggio for centuries. It's almost as if whoever wrote the definitive biography of Caravaggio had some sort of vested interest in making him seem like an asshole and- hey, wait a minute ...
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